Superheroes, while popular with American comic book fans, are not an easy sell if they're not "classic" characters. Successfully launching new series from Marvel and DC is hard enough, but companies such as Image Comics face even greater challenges. Both "Invincible" and "Savage Dragon" are two of their big superhero success stories, but there's also another series, "Noble Causes," that has managed to generate a strong cult following in recent years. With things heating up in the series, CBR News spoke with writer/creator Jay Faerber, about the future of the series, though he cautions readers about to read this interview.
"Before we get started, I should warn people that there are spoilers for issue #18 in this interview, so if you're already a Nobles fan but you haven't read that issue yet … beware!" says Faerber.
With that out of the way, we begin.
"'Noble Causes' is the story of the Nobles, a family of super-heroes who are always in the media spotlight - they're more famous for what they wear and who they're dating than for saving the world. The story began when Liz Donnelly, an ordinary girl, married Race Noble, making her the first "normal" person to see the inner workings of the Noble family. She got to see all the family rivalries and back-stabbing that the rest of the world never knew about.
"Recently, we've been introduced to a second family - the Blackthornes. Whereas the Nobles are famous, the Blackthornes are infamous. They're a family of super-villains with a grudge against the Nobles that goes back about ten years when Pierce Blackthorne died during a fight with Race. In issues #13-18, we saw the Blackthornes put into motion a complicated revenge scheme that resulted in two things: (1) Race was robbed of his super-speed powers, and (2) the Blackthornes looked like heroes to the rest of the world when they saved Race and Liz from a super-powered assassin."
The Blackthornes are easily the biggest new addition to the series, and while they are the Nobles' opposites, the two families are equally scheming and equally as fascinating. "The Blackthornes are the Nobles' opposites in many ways. I originally conceived the Nobles to be a family sort of like the Kennedys - rich, powerful, beautiful, and marked with tragedy. Yet still, in their heyday, America saw them almost like royalty. The Blackthornes, on the other hand, I liken to mobster John Gotti and his family. Even before Gotti's conviction, everyone knew he was a criminal, yet he was still a celebrity. That's sort of how the Blackthornes are - people know they're up to no good, but they're still fascinated by them. And the Blackthorne family is just as dysfunctional as the Nobles. You've got Slate Blackthorne, their youngest son, who doesn't really want to join into the 'family business,' so he secretly does good deeds. You've got Dawn Blackthorne, who keeps the family together, yet she's secretly involved in a passionate affair with Celeste Noble. You've got Dusk Blackthorne, Dawn's twin sister, who's just plain bad, through and through. And the Blackthorne matriarch, Kitty, is addicted to a strange elixir that boosts her already natural feline abilities, turning her into a were-cat creature.
"The Blackthornes will definitely be around for the long haul. Their story is already quite entwined with the Nobles. Fans may remember that issue #13 focused almost exclusively on the Blackthornes, and we're doing another issue like that with #21."
While the series began with a focus on Liz and Race, the series has quickly moved from crisis to crisis, without any kind of real status quo for "Noble Causes." "It's just something that happens," explains Faerber. "Writing a book that you own and control means that you can do whatever you want, and I love that freedom. I can't really conceive of ever getting bored with 'Noble Causes,' because the canvas is so broad I can tell any kind of story I want. I can do a traditional super-hero slugfest, or a detective story, or some weird sci-fi tale, or even a straight romance. It's all there in the basic premise already. So I like that the book is unpredictable and constantly evolving."
Adding to the unpredictability of the series has been the development of a bi-sexual relationship between two of the series' main characters, but surprisingly, Faerber hasn't been trumpeting the relationship in the media. "It just felt sort of cheap to really tout the fact that Celeste and Dawn are lovers. I mean, obviously I wanted to get a little attention, hence the cover to issue #17. But it's not a cheap gimmick. It's a development I gave serious consideration, and this relationship will have lasting effects on both characters - not to mention both families."
"Noble Causes" will also add a new member to the creative family on the title, namely penciller Jon Bosco. Some have commented that the series has rotated artists frequently, but Faerber disagrees. "I don't know that our rotation has been that heavy. Fran Bueno has been drawing the book for eighteen issues. That's an accomplishment in today's market, when entire creative teams barely last six issues.
"But 'Noble Causes' has always been a very writer-driven book. I've been the constant on the title (along with ace letterer Ray Dillon) since day one, so I don't think readers are too put off by artistic changes. Plus, every artist who's worked on the book has been a great talent. I've been lucky to work with each and every one of them.
"Jon Bosco, our new regular artist, joined the book after Fran Bueno decided he was just worn out with the monthly grind. He's going to take some time off, honor a couple other commitments, and he and I will be developing a new series together.
"So when Fran announced he was leaving, I started the hunt for a new artist, and just came across Bosco's stuff online. He's Brazilian, so I deal with his agents, but everyone's been great. There was a bit of a learning curve, as Bosco got a handle on the characters, and on working with Ray (our letterer) and Ron Riley (our colorist). But once we got all the technical aspects down, the team really started to gel (as you'll see when you read the preview of issue #19)."
Over the years, "Noble Causes" has maintained a steady fan base, but the "Buzz" around the book has varied at times. Fans have put forth their own theories for this lack of spotlight focused on "Noble Causes," and Faerber explains, "I think it's simply because the book's been around so long, it's hard to drum up any buzz for it. It's not like a Marvel or DC book, where you can jump-start interest by bringing in a new creative team. I'm sure not going anywhere!
"But despite the perceived lack of buzz, the book is gaining fans every day. Orders on #19 were up a considerable number from #18, and I hear from people all the time who've just discovered the book. The upside of being around for awhile is that you become reliable, people realize that it's okay to get invested in the book, because we're not going to close up shop mid-story arc."
And though some fans may deride superheroes, seeing them as juvenile or anachronistic, Faerber has embraced superheroes for his entire career and couldn't be happier. "I don't know," he says of why he's attracted to the spandex crowd. "Maybe part of me never grew up. But I like the way super-heroes stories are both grounded in the real world, yet also feature fantastic elements. I just like the way they unlock a person's imagination. I think that's the key to the genre's longevity. I also like how super-hero comics have evolved to the point where they're being used to tell other stories. The super-hero trappings are really just a way to make a statement of another kind. I think we'll see even more of that in years to come."
So, if you're interested to see what happens next with the Noble family, Faerber recommend that fans check out the latest issue of "Noble Causes," saying, "Because there are still seats available, and we're getting ready to chug along to an exciting location. Along the way you'll be treated to suspense, humor, romance, and action - all in one convenient package. What more could you ask for?"